HL Deb 31 May 1881 vol 261 cc1765-9



, in calling attention to the subject of local government and taxation in Scotland, said, his reason for doing so was that the Prime Minister had, through the Lord Advocate, intimated that they had under consideration the propriety or expediency of proposing a very considerable and, indeed, a very radical change in the management of local affairs and local taxation in Scotland. The Lord Advocate had addressed a speech to the Scotch Members of the House of Commons, and also issued a Memorandum on the subject. Looking to these Papers, he must say a very considerable amount of information was afforded as to the amount of local taxation raised for various purposes in Scotland, and the proportion in which such local taxation was assisted by Imperial funds. It was well known that in Scotland local taxation generally fell on owners, whereas in England, he believed, it fell on occupiers. One of the points referred to by the Lord Advocate was that the system of subvention from the Imperial Exchequer worked badly, in respect that it produced a disregard for economy on the part of local bodies, and that a change in that respect might be very properly introduced. The mode suggested for carrying it out tentatively was that some tax might be set apart for the use of the local body, such as the dog tax or carriage duty, or some other tax. The question then was, which was the best mode off assisting local taxation? Was it desirable that owners should pay the rates, or that the occupiers should do so, or should one-half be levied on each of these classes? Another very important question was, whether personal property might not be brought in to share social and public burdens by being made to contribute, or whether personal property should claim exemption, as heretofore, from visits of the rate collector? As to the constitution of the Local Boards, very great changes were pointed to. It was suggested that a representative body should be elected, so that a more direct local action might be brought to bear on the matter of local taxation. These were the chief points. He would not trouble the House with any observations of his own on the subject, upon which he thought he had said enough to justify his bringing it before them, but would conclude by asking Her Majesty's Government, Whether they could communicate to this House, or to the Scottish members of the House, any information bearing upon or explanatory of their intentions, promulgated elsewhere, on the subject of local government and local taxation in Scotland?


said, he must express an anxious hope that the Government would give no hasty answer on this question. Some time ago, when he was a Member of the Government, he was wholly unaware that the Government had arrived at any conclusion as to a change in local or county government in Scotland. There had been discussions going on on this subject for some years, and he could not say that any general concurrence of opinion had been arrived at in Scotland as to any change in county government. The truth was, they were, in Scotland, very far before England in this matter. He would not say the Scotch system was absolutely perfect, or that it was incapable of amendment or of reform; but the system was one that worked extremely well, and he never heard any practical objection brought against it. His noble Friend (the Earl of Minto) asked the Government to communicate their intentions "promulgated elsewhere." He imagined his noble Friend referred to certain documents circulated to Scotch Members and to Scotch Peers during the last week, and which he had only an opportunity of reading that morning; but if he referred to those Papers, they were not Papers that "promulgated" anything whatever. One proposal to cease giving a subvention from the Treasury, and rather that some of the taxes should be relegated to the administration of local bodies was a plan that he had heard recommended for a good number of years, with regard not only to Scotland, but to England, and he apprehended that such a method adopted in Scotland would also be extended to England. With regard to the alleged economic results of such a plan, he did not himself quite see how this effect should be produced; but it was a large question affecting not Scotland only, but England. He quite admitted, however, that if the system of subvention being given to local bodies was to be entirely altered, it might become necessary also to alter their system of local administration. Their present system was this—that in all cases where the general ratepayers contributed to the local taxes, those local ratepayers were represented in the administration. For example, in all cases in which the tenants contributed to the local taxation as well as the landlord, the fund was administered by a body composed of both parties; where it was raised entirely from the owners, and not from the occupiers, the owners had the exclusive disposal of it. This was a fair proposition, but it would not be right that a mixed body should have the administration of a fund which came from the proprietors alone; and if the tenantry were desirous of having a share in the administration of such funds, they would also have to contribute. He very much doubted whether the occupiers of Scotland would desire to have any share in the disposal of those particular matters. This was rather a complicated matter, and involved large questions of principle, and he hoped his noble Friend would not announce on the part of the Government any formal scheme with regard to it, because he was sure the counties of Scotland had not made up their mind upon any scheme.


said, that the question of local government and taxation had been pressing for solution by Parliament; and he was glad there was reason to believe, from those Papers which had been circulated in an informal manner, that the Government had an intention of dealing with the question at no very distant date. If the Government elected to commence by dealing with that question in Scotland, Scotland had, he thought, neither any reason, nor would it have any desire, to complain. What Scotland did complain of in common with England was that for all purposes of Parliamentary Business and legislation the whole time of Parliament was occupied by the Representatives of one portion of the Kingdom, who would neither do Irish Business themselves nor allow other persons to do it, nor allow, indeed, Business of any sort or kind to be done; and hence it was that an important question like local taxation would have been pressed on the atten- tion of Parliament over and over again. A subject which affected most vitally the interest of Scotland had to be introduced to the notice of Scotch Members by a meeting between the Lord Advocate and the Scotch Members in a tea-room, or some other hole-and-corner place, where they could collect together. Of that Scotland had some right to complain; but there was, with reference to this question, a suggestion which he should like to submit for the earnest consideration of the Government. It was beyond doubt that many local measures which had been passed by Parliament had been found, when submitted to practical test and operation, to be incomplete, inelastic, and incapable of adapting themselves to the particular wants of the various localities. The reason of this was not far to seek. It was because these measures affecting local interests had been drawn up by a central authority in a central office without adequate communication with the localities for whose benefit the measures were intended. He did not blame the central authority; but any-one who knew these facts could not but see that the attention of the central authority had in many instances been directed to the requirements of Parliament, and not so much to the wants of the locality for which the measure was destined. He hoped that in dealing with this question—if, indeed, the Government could propose to deal with the Local Government Question in Scotland—the Lord Advocate would keep this in mind, and that he would communicate, if not the principles, at all events the details of his measure, when the principles had been settled, to the local authorities, by whom he meant not only the Commissioners of Supply, but the various local elective boards which existed in Scotland. If the Lord Advocate took that course he would save himself a great deal of trouble and opposition in Parliament; and when his measure was introduced in "another place" he would find it would require much less revision and alteration.


, in reply, said, that Her Majesty's Government, so far as he was aware, had no immediate intention of introducing so large a measure as the noble Earl (the Earl of Minto) appeared to contemplate. It was true that the Lord Advocate proposed almost immediately to bring in a mea- sure into the other House of Parliament providing for an alteration of the Poor Law and an amendment of the constitution of the Parochial Boards. It was a measure based on the recommendations of a Select Committee of the House of Commons in 1871. Among other things, it proposed to give a more strictly representative character to those Boards than they now possessed, and in some respects extended the authority of the Boards; but with regard to local taxation, the Government had no immediate intention of dealing with it.


asked if in the measure referred to it was intended to alter the method of taxation with regard to the Poor Law?


was not able to say, not having seen the Bill, whether the incidence of taxation would be dealt with.